One of Indianapolis Public Schools' most famous schools would shut down and four others would see dramatic changes to their offerings under a plan presented to the school board Tuesday night.
The plan is to close Key Learning Community, a K-12 magnet school that opened in 1987 as the world’s first with curriculum inspired by the Multiple Intelligences theory, in 2016.
It also would shift the International Baccalaureate program from Gambold Preparatory High School on the northwest side to Shortridge High School on the north side. That program would replace Shortridge’s signature law and public policy program, which would move to Arsenal Tech High School to make room.
Tech would also absorb the media and mass communications program from Broad Ripple High School under the plan.
Besides Key, all the other changes would occur before the next school year begins.
More than two dozen parents, mostly from Shortridge and Broad Ripple, said after the meeting that they were concerned about the moves and angry that they were not given an opportunity to speak. Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said they would still get that opportunity next week.
“We will have opportunities for our citizens to weigh in,” he said.
Changes at five schools
Gambold and Shortridge were among several schools that former Superintendent Eugene White reopened or reorganized by placing a specialty magnet program on those campuses. Gambold reopened in 2012 and has 108 students in grades 9 to 11. Shortridge was converted to a magnet high school in 2009 and has 725 students in grades 6 to 12.
The possibility of moving the IB program to Shortridge was first raised last year, with the idea of having the school located closer to magnet elementary schools on the city’s north side, like the Centers for Inquiry and Sidener Gifted Academy, as part of the thinking in hopes those families would stay in IPS by choosing the IB program rather than opting for private and charter high schools.
Gambold has not been open long enough to earn an A to F grade from the state. Shortridge’s high school and middle school were both rated a D by the state for low test scores last year.
Broad Ripple is an arts and humanities magnet high school with about 1,000 students in grades 6 to 12. The school earned a B for its high school and an F for its middle school from the state last year based on test scores and other factors. The school would continue to offer performing and visual arts and humanities magnet programs under the proposal.
Tech, the district’s largest high school with more than 2,100 students in grades 9 to 12, already has 22 magnet programs in specialties as diverse as culinary arts, fire rescue and welding. It has been rated a D for three straight years.
Parents who came to the meeting said they received an automated phone call late Monday, after the deadline to sign up 24 hours in advance to speak to the board. They said they would be back on Tuesday to speak against the proposal before the board votes.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it, and that’s why I’m down here,” said Theresa Harris, a Broad Ripple graduate with a son who attends the school.
Mary Juerling, a member of the group Parent Power and mother of a recent transfer student to Shortridge, said the plan was unfair. For example, she said, it would require perhaps more than 700 students to move from the school to stay with their magnet programs, while little more than 100 would be moving in.
Several parents asked why the district didn’t just move the Gambold IB program to Tech and leave Shortridge out of it.
“My choices are being taken away in my local community,” Juerling said.
Jeurling also said the move had racial implications, potentially moving a larger number of poor, black and Hispanic children to make way for programs that serve more white families and wealthy families.
Shortridge is 87-percent black, Hispanic or multiracial, and 81 percent come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. For a family of four, that means an annual income of $43,500 or less. Gambold is 65-percent black, Hispanic or multiracial with 70 percent who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
“You see a disproportionate impact on certain racial groups,” Jeurling said.
Board members have questions
Ferebee said the plan would make better use of school buildings, create more space in high demand programs and improve student achievement.
“We believe this is an opportunity for increased efficiency,” he said.
At least three board members — Michael Brown, Annie Roof and Gayle Cosby — appeared to have concerns about the plan or the process. Roof and Cosby asked about communication with the schools about the proposal. Cosby said she was “dismayed” that parents and school staff weren’t involved in discussions about the future of the schools sooner.
“I have a concern about informing parents and families about something of this magnitude the night before,” she said.
Brown said the plan failed to take into account the historical reasons for why the programs were placed in the schools in the first place.
“I am not in favor of any of these moves,” Brown said.
The end of Key?
The closing of Key would bring an era of uniquely creative education to an end.
The Multiple Intelligences psychological theory was developed by Harvard professor Howard Gardner in a groundbreaking book in 1983. A group of IPS teachers who read it made a pilgrimage to meet Gardner at a speaking engagement in 1984, proposing the idea of building a school around the intelligences. Gardner gave his blessing.
The Key school opened with 150 students in grades K to 6 in 1987 to national media attention as a worldwide first and has since been extensively studied for its applications of Gardner’s ideas.
Gardner’s research attempted to categorize human behaviors that he felt qualified as “intelligence:” visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical-rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic, and logical-mathematical. Every person, he theorized, possessed a unique mix of strengths and weaknesses in each category. Gardner also criticized standardized testing, arguing that it mostly measured just two types of intelligence.
The school embraced those ideas by attempting to create learning activities that allowed kids to play to their strengths, particularly through projects or by allowing unstructured time to explore their interests. Key enjoyed a run as one of the district’s most celebrated schools, known for strong student performance and catering to some of the district’s wealthiest families. But by the early 2000s, student poverty had grown and test performance fell off dramatically.
Today, Key is a K-12 school on White River Parkway Drive near downtown Indianapolis, a site the district has identified as potentially valuable.
Principal Sheila Dollaske came on board in 2012 with the goal of invigorating the school. Key made dramatic test score gains at elementary grades soon after, but overall performance has been mixed. The school last year earned a C for middle and high school but an F for elementary school.